Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

The Quest for Collaboration and Cooperation: Communication Is the Most Demanding Adjustment between Contract Education Providers and Department of Corections Staff in Achieving a Joint Perspective of Service Coordination

Academic journal article Journal of Correctional Education

The Quest for Collaboration and Cooperation: Communication Is the Most Demanding Adjustment between Contract Education Providers and Department of Corections Staff in Achieving a Joint Perspective of Service Coordination

Article excerpt

Abstract

The relationship between contract education providers and correctional staff in a state correctional institution whose mission is to incarcerate and rehabilitate youth who have been sentenced as adults can be one in which both entities perceive themselves at cross-purposes. The drive by correctional staff to preserve both safety and security of the institution, through control and management, counterpoised against the educators' responsibility to educate student-inmates can result in conflicting priorities; and consequently, inconsistency, uncertainty and distrust. These mutually reinforcing barriers can block critical lines of communication; and consequently, obstruct strategy implementation and organizational learning. Under such circumstances, the quality of the product, which is service oriented, is bound to be affected. This article describes the challenges impacting both the educational and correctional staffs at the Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility in Omaha, Nebraska, and how the joint effort of both staffs resulted in an organizational structure that is characterized by improved communication and collaborative decision-making and has ultimately fostered organizational synergy.

High Security Facilities and Different Programming for Youthful Offenders

Nationally, there is a growing recognition of the dilemma facing states as they try to respond appropriately to the increasing number of youthful offenders being sentenced to prison. Managing youthful offenders in adult facilities is one of the most difficult challenges faced by correctional administrators and can be a devastating experience for the youth. Older, more sophisticated, adult inmates can abuse these 14 to 19 year-old offenders sexually, psychologically and physically. Prior to the opening of the Nebraska Correctional Youth Facility (NCYF) in August of 1998, the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services (the Department) did not have an appropriate setting to house this unique population. The Department was forced to house such offenders in various areas within its adult facilities that afforded the least mentally and physically harmful environment possible.

The very nature of this dilemma, by necessity, created a much more restrictive environment for the youth than that experienced by general population inmates. In effect, the Department was forced to isolate these 14 to 19 year-old offenders in areas such as infirmaries and segregation cells. This restrictive environment significantly reduced program opportunities and thwarted effective rehabilitation efforts.

The State of Nebraska, to its credit, was one of the first states to build a facility designed specifically to house only violent and aggressive youthful offenders who have been convicted and sentenced as adults. NCYF is an especially hardened environment (double fences with razor ribbon, hardened steel doors and walls, individual security control panels in housing units, extensive security camera systems, etc.). Increasingly, other states are recognizing the need for specialized and separate facilities for these types of youthful offenders and are building that capacity into their systems. Both the American Correctional Association and the American Association of Correctional Administrators have recognized this need as well.

NCYF allows the Department to attempt to meet the critical and special needs of these offenders with a totally different paradigm specific to this age group. A highly structured environment has become one of the cornerstones of this paradigm and allows the youthful offender to grow up physically, mentally and emotionally, away form the influences of older, multiple convicted felons. NCYF is unique among the Department's facilities. One way in which it is unique is the fact that all inmates at NCYF are also students. Hence, they are required by their education program to attend school three hours a day, five days a week. …

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